After the successful revolutions to overthrow the Tunisian and Egyptian rulers, a ripple effect has been observed across the region, as people in multiple countries have been inspired to raise their voice against their oppressive governments. Even with their sectarian or social differences, people have united together to get rid of the corrupt regimes such as that of Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Libya. Each group of people has determined a 'day of anger' to finally raise their voices and call for reform after observing silence due to fear from the authorities and other factors.
In the midst of this wave of revolutions, it is quite surprising and ironic to find that even a group of people in Iran have decided to protest against their government and call for reform. Actually, it was not more than two years ago when this same group, known as the "Green Movement", strongly protested against the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and claimed unfair elections. This same group, which failed, decided in the midst of this streak of revolutions to ride the wave and call out for what they believe to be "reform" in a country that is designed to be an Islamic Republic.
This situation prompts us to pose the following question: Is every revolution legitimate, and is every protest really a call for positive reform? It seems that the trend nowadays is that everyone wants change, and whether it is from bad to good or vice versa may not always be realized. How do we know which group of people are justified in their revolts? In order for us to answer this question, we must be able to first identify the truth (Haqq), and thereby determine where falsehood lies. We are to be reminded of the words of wisdom of Imam Ali (peace be upon him) where he advises us, "Determine where the truth is, and then you will know who belongs to it." But how do we successfully pinpoint Haqq when both truth and falsehood has become vague and mixed with each other in so many ways?
Everyone claims to want reform, but what exactly is reform, and is it relative from one person to the other? Ultimately, one must analyze the items in which change is being sought and the direction in which this change is headed. If the protest for reform is for the sake of promoting Islamic ideals and principles, such as establishing justice and equity, protecting the rights of fellow citizens, and implementing the laws of the Islamic Shari'ah, then surely it is a righteous cause that deserves self-sacrifice and relentless struggle. Ultimately, our position will be determined by whether or not the arguments presented are in line with prescriptions of the Holy Qur'an and the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them), as these two are undoubtedly our tools of measurement.
However, if the protest is for the sake of promoting social liberalism and acting upon our personal desires under the pretext of "liberty" and "freedom", then that type of reform is questionable! For example, it is not positive reform to minimize segregation among men and women, or to loosen up the Islamic dress-code, or to promote irreligious views. These are all invalid reasons to rise against a government that was founded on the basis of implementing Islamic law and spirit. There is no government which is perfect and flawless, and there is always room for more improvement. However, the existence of a well-defined system with the role of Wilayat al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist) implemented by the late Imam Khomeini which provides security that the political leaders and regime do not deviate from core Islamic teachings gives us a sense of trust in this government which is unique in its safety-blanket approach.
It is true that the absolute meanings of "liberty" and "freedom" have positive connotations which every human being would like to exercise as his right. However, we must keep in mind that as Muslims, our way of life is essentially Islam with all the teachings, principles, and laws that came with the final message to mankind. In simple words, Islam means to submit and surrender to the absolute sovereignty of Allah, which contradicts with the idea of human liberty to do as one pleases. Although God has given us the free will to act in this life as we want and choose our own paths, we must remember that it is a test for us, and the next life is the time of accounting for our deeds. In essence, we are not "free" to act as we so desire; rather, our lives revolve around His commands.
Hence for a Muslim, the true meaning of "freedom" is not to act upon any desire that comes to mind. Rather, in the perspective of a submissive servant to Allah, true freedom is to open one's heart in an intimate relationship with one's Creator, where one may freely exercise one's love to Him through worship and obedience. One of the best forms of freedom that a servant can enjoy is to reflect upon His glory, pronounce His praise, and think of ways to please Him and sacrifice for the sake of the One Beloved. Once the servant tastes this spiritual type of freedom and happiness with his Lord, he has achieved the highest level of bliss that is more enjoyable than the physical Paradise! This type of freedom has been enjoyed and appreciated by our Infallible Imams (peace be upon them all), who represent the model of perfection to mankind.
As Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) describes a moment of intimacy between a servant and his Creator: "There are no drops which are dearer to Allah than two kinds – drops of blood shed in Allah's cause and the tears dropped in the darkness of night for which a servant does not want anything except the pleasure of Allah."